Flight – Movie Review – Legal Issues

“Flight,” a work of fiction, documents a brilliant and talented but alcohol and drug addicted pilot, played by Denzel Washington. The pilot drinks and takes cocaine while flying an airliner with over 100 people on board. Trouble occurs in the air and he manages to crash land the plane with only a few deaths. An inquiry ensues.

The inquiry finds that a worn out part in a critical piece of the plane caused the crash and that the pilot’s actions saved many lives. The inquiry also finds a .24 blood alcohol level and cocaine in the pilot’s system at the time of the crash.

An interesting set-up, but the film descends into trite treacle and preaching while ignoring some very basic legal tenets.

The pilot would not have had to testify at the inquiry if criminal charges were pending – basic 5th Amendment right.

Since the cause of the crash was mechanical, the pilot, despite his intoxication, would not be criminally liable for manslaughter. The proximate cause (legal term) of the crash was not his drinking, but mechanical failure. Therefore he is not criminally liable.

The pilot would certainly lose his FAA license to fly, but that would not be enough to send him to prison.

As any reader of this web site knows, I’m all for AA and dealing appropriately with substance abuse. I think this movie could have addressed that issue far more effectively.

Bottom line: the first 45 minutes provide some great Hollywood airliner tension. The rest of it is a bunch of legally inaccurate nonsense. It’s also too long. Cutting this cinematic trip down to 90 minutes with some tight editing might have saved it. At over 2 hours I’m feeling jammed into the middle seat and circling for a landing.

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